Time feels fluid in the fall.
Blink and I’m 16, watching open-mouthed as the second tower falls from my silent high school physics class. Again and I’m in my final year at college, sliding hardcovers into long rows at Borders not long before it shuttered. Now and I’m 29, calling into the basement in search of my husband — husband — before making a third cup of coffee.
I get lost in the past sometimes. Perhaps we all do? As Spencer and I worked to install the bookcases in the new space at home, I couldn’t stop thinking about where those shelves had come from — and remembering my bookseller days. For as much as I love my newspaper job (and I do), sometimes I fantasize about going back to shilling novels to the masses.
Silly, I know — but I was happy there. Really, really happy. Part of it was just that time of my life: graduating from college, having the first of my “own” money, making new friends. Being surrounded by words and roasting coffee and folks eager for the latest paperback, the newest hardcover.
That was, of course, nearly a decade ago . . . and the world has changed around us. It would never be the same now. That Borders closed and reopened later as a Books-a-Million, and the bones may be the same — eerily similar, actually — but the soul is not.
It shouldn’t feel different, but it does.
I find it hard to go in there, actually . . . though why remains a mystery. I have more books than I could possibly read already — but that hasn’t stopped me before. Part of me feels slightly haunted as I walk the aisles I once knew so well, I guess, looking for familiar faces that have long moved on and away.
For as much as I lobbied for a hometown bookstore, I rarely go in. I talk about it and think about it and plan to, but then I just . . . don’t.
Maybe because I need new memories. In random moments when we’re driving around town, chatting and daydreaming, Spencer and I talk about if we ever would have met without online dating. Though we lived just 20 minutes apart, we moved in such different circles that they rarely would have intersected.
But oddly, we do have mutual friends.
If you had gone to this party . . .
If I’d left work early to . . .
If you’d come into the bookstore . . .
The bookstore is where our lives could have crossed — if only for a moment. Down from New York for an internship the same summer I worked at Borders, Spencer might have found himself in Waldorf looking for a guide or record and seen me there, flush from searching for a Hemingway, Welty or Rowling.
I squint and crane and remember, trying to picture the faces of countless customers I saw each week in the evenings with mass markets in their arms. In the years I asked for Borders Rewards cards and took special orders, gift-wrapped and greeted, I can’t bring up his face among them.
But it might have been there.
Thinking of those happenstance moments — the serendipity — is fun. “Fate” feels like a big word, but it’s easy to believe in sometimes.
Though I once lamented my husband and I don’t have a “meet-cute,” I’ve come to realize that isn’t true at all. There were so many factors that led to us eventually sharing coffee on a windy afternoon, each path a different thread in the tapestry now knitting us together.
When I was brokenhearted and uncertain at Borders, looking for direction and wondering how it would all play out, he could have been there in the maps or movies — a man I didn’t yet know that I would come to know best.
Though cheesy, maybe, the bookcases standing sentinel in our new home are comforting. A reminder of happy days, of a part of my past, the job that really solidified my love for reading and eventually helped me launch this space. And my column. And the rest of my life.
My home library is “real” now! Really real. We’re building it slowly, finding pieces here and there, and I don’t plan to call it finished . . . well, ever, probably.
There’s always another book. Another world.